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Anniversary weekend, Alinea rez- check. Now what else...? Love small plates & good beer!

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Coming for a Saturday-Monday in June, was able to get a rez at Alinea for Sunday 8:30, which was a real sonovabitch, but is done. We love absolutely all food, especially authentic ethnic food (real Mexican tortas, real Japanese Kaiseki, etc) and also are really fond of innovative small plates. Our ideal meal is going somewhere along the lines of Tru, but ordering a la carte and trying 5 or 6 or 7 things to share (and getting away for about $100 without booze) rather than doing the super expensive tasting menus, although I'm certain Alinea is well worth the loot.

I'm a huge fan of craft beer, I'd love to sneak some chicago pizza (do any of the good spots do it by the slice?)

We're staying near Wacker & Michigan and love walking places & doing "food tours" where we & some friends stop at 4 or 5 restaurants in a day and each order a small plate or two and all share, just to try as much of what the city has to offer as possible. Last time we were in NYC I think we were able to hit like 31 restaurants in a little over 48 hours :)

Anyway thanks a million for your input, and I'm sorry if this has already been answered, but I couldn't find specifically this topic addressed in any posts thus far.

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Alinea
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

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  1. >> Our ideal meal is going somewhere along the lines of Tru, but ordering a la carte and trying 5 or 6 or 7 things to share (and getting away for about $100 without booze) rather than doing the super expensive tasting menus, although I'm certain Alinea is well worth the loot.

    Yes, it's worth it.

    I love your description of your ideal restaurant - a place where you can get a bunch of plates of phenomenal food in small portions (so you can try a lot of them) at a moderate price. My favorite contemporary American restaurant in the city fits this perfectly! It's called Sable and it's downtown in River North. The food from Chef Heather Terhune is terrific; don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee! Most of the items are available in half portions (although the prices are so low that even full portions aren't expensive). I went there solo, ordered four items for $30 (three in half portions), and was so full I didn't have room for dessert. They also offer artisanal cocktails. And it's about five minutes walk from Wacker and Michigan. www.sablechicago.com

    We have a bunch of other small plates restaurants that are very good, but not necessarily quite on the same "knock-your-socks-off great" level of Sable. They include tapas at Mercat a la Planxa and Cafe Iberico, and small plates Italian at Quartino. Quartino is 5-10 minutes walk from Wacker and Michigan; Mercat and Iberico are both a little further, 15-20 minutes walking.

    If you enjoy sweeter dishes at breakfast, you'd probably also like Bongo Room, which sort of fits into that "small plates" category. They specialize in creative pancakes, such as their pretzel pancakes with white chocolate caramel sauce. Their standard portion size is three GIGANTIC pancakes, but you can get one-third and two-thirds portion sizes at a reduced price, so you can try a lot of things. They have two locations; the closer one is about a mile and a half south on Michigan. (Afterwards stop at Canady Le Chocolatier nearby if you enjoy artisanal chocolates.) http://chicago.menupages.com/restaura...

    >> I'm a huge fan of craft beer, I'd love to sneak some chicago pizza (do any of the good spots do it by the slice?)

    You can get pizza by the slice at our gastropubs, but it won't be the best authentic Chicago deep-dish. I recommend getting deep-dish at one of our best places - Uno and Due in River North, or one of the multiple locations of Lou Malnati's or Pizano's - and getting craft beers elsewhere. The closest to Wacker and Michigan is (are?) Uno and Due, 5-10 minutes walk from Wacker and Michigan. I think they have a personal-size deep-dish, at least at lunchtime.

    Our best gastropubs include the Gage in the Loop (about five minutes walk south of Wacker on Michigan) and the Publican in the West Loop (about a mile west), both of which accept reservations, and a few other places that don't and where you have to wait a long time for a table.

    Oh yeah, you can make reservations for a lot of our better places on Opentable.com (as well as by phone, of course). Places on Opentable.com include Sable, Mercat a la Planxa, Quartino, the Gage, and the Publican. When making a reservation for the Publican, you can specify a preference for the communal seating (about half of the seating) or for your own table for 2, 4, or 6.

    >> We're staying near Wacker & Michigan and love walking places & doing "food tours" where we & some friends stop at 4 or 5 restaurants in a day and each order a small plate or two and all share, just to try as much of what the city has to offer as possible. Last time we were in NYC I think we were able to hit like 31 restaurants in a little over 48 hours :)

    You can do that kind of "walking tour" in the downtown area around where you're staying as well as
    a lot of outlying Chicago neighborhoods. For a discussion of various Chicago food neighborhoods, see http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/437740

    Oh, and Wacker and Michigan is only a few blocks from Fox & Obel, our premier upscale gourmet food store, with the best of everything - meats, fish, prepared foods, etc. Two things are worth taking advantage of. One, they have the very best baked goods in the city. (They were recently named one of the ten best bread bakeries in the country by Bon Appetit magazine.) Their rich "cinnamon swirl rolls" are amazing, their croissants and brioche are wonderful, and they have lots of other great baked goods for carryout. They also have a cafe in the rear of the store where you can get anything from a cup of coffee to a complete meal, prepared to order. Open 6-midnight, 7 days. www.fox-obel.com

    Finally, here are links to two discussions that you might have missed, and will give you an overview of what Chicago has to offer. This discussion tells what foods and places are unique or specialties in Chicago, foods that Chicago is particularly good at:

    first time Chicago - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/693477

    This discussion has an overview listing some of our best in various food categories, as well as advice for getting the best value for your dining dollar:

    Where are the best Chicago dinner *values* - the hidden gems? - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/697829

    Feel free to ask more questions, and enjoy your visit!

    2 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      WOW. nsxtasy you are a king. You could not have posted a more perfect response. Thank you SO much, seriously. If I can buy you a beer when we're out there, let me know.

      1. re: nsxtasy

        The menu at Sable has me so hungry right now...

        OK brunch looks fantastic but I gotta try the corn creme brulee so I got a rez for saturday early lunch :)

      2. If you love craft beer, I would definitely try to get to Hopleaf, Local Option, Bangers and Lace, or Longman and Eagle. Another fun thing to do is go to The Map Room (arguably one of the best beer bars in the country), and then go around the corner to George's where you can get a Chicago style dog to bring back and eat at the bar. There is some distance here from where you are staying, but if you are a craft beer enthusiast, it is worth it!

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        The Map Room
        1949 N Hoyne Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

        Hopleaf Bar
        5148 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640

        The Local Option
        1102 W Webster Ave, Chicago, IL 60614

        7 Replies
        1. re: dulcie54

          Beware - some of those places (particularly Hopleaf and Longman & Eagle) are ones I warned you about, where they don't take reservations and you'll have a looooong wait to be seated, over two hours on weekends! Often we locals can go to places on weeknights and some of us forget that visitors may only be here on weekends when those waits are excruciating.

          Hopleaf is also quite some distance from downtown, in the Andersonville neighborhood (allow an hour each way by public transportation, 20-25 minutes by car/cab).

          1. re: nsxtasy

            You are right. I would arrive early at Hopleaf, have a beer and get in line for a table. The Gage is not really a craft beer bar and Publican's range is more towards Belgians.

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            Hopleaf Bar
            5148 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640

            1. re: dulcie54

              Well, I wouldn't waste four hours of a short weekend waiting in line and traveling to and from a place just for their beer selection - LOL! But the OP can decide for themselves whether or not that's a good use of their time. And to help in making that decision, most of these places have websites where you can see their beer lists (as well as food menus and the rest of the alcoholic availability). Check them out (as I think you'll find a lot more variety at each of those places than the stereotypes mentioned above would imply):

              The Gage - www.thegagechicago.com
              The Publican - www.thepublicanrestaurant.com
              Hopleaf - www.hopleaf.com
              Longman & Eagle - www.longmanandeagle.com

              1. re: nsxtasy

                nsxtasy, there is no doubt you rule when it comes to Chicago dining. As a craft beer brewer, and writer about craft beer, I am always eager to share what Chicago has to offer in that regard. Beer geeks will gladly wait and/or travel for a great beer experience. Everything is contextual...the OP may desire more than what some might characterize as the stereotypical Chicago restaurant experience.

                1. re: dulcie54

                  >> Beer geeks will gladly wait and/or travel for a great beer experience.

                  And that is fine - really! However, they may or may not be willing to spend an extra four hours in a short weekend to go to one place vs another whose selection and experience may be quite enjoyable as well. Maybe they don't mind, maybe they do, and they can decide for themselves. Looking at the websites to see the beer lists will help them make that decision. I'm surprised you would object to providing those website links along with the suggestion to check them out. Objecting to additional information does a grave disservice to the craft beer aficionado you claim you write for. More information to help them make a decision should be A GOOD THING.

                  Also, I'm surprised you describe yourself as a "writer about craft beer", since you seem to stereotype places by what they have the most of while ignoring their other offerings. For example, the Publican does indeed have a lot of Belgian beers; but their selection of American beers, from 14 brewers in 7 states, is not exactly skimpy, and belies your stereotype as false.

                  Remember, we're here to HELP our visitors from out of town. And the more information we can provide to help them decide what THEY want to do, the better. Sometimes, it's not only a matter of listing who has the best of something, but also letting them know what kind of pain going there involves (and it's substantial in some cases). Giving them the complete picture lets them make the decision that is best for their needs.

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    Guys, no need to disagree here, I am a craft beer nerd, my wife likes beer but typically favors wine, and we both are foodies. We will probably spend a portion of a day hopping between the spots north of the mile (Wicker Park & Lincoln Park) just for a beer at each during off-peak hours. We both also love to walk (she's a marathoner, I used to run a fair bit before my back crapped out on me) so long walks are no problem, as long as we aren't treading into any questionably safe areas. Are any of the areas aforementioned not safe to walk through/to? I've walked from the UWS to SoHo in Manhattan before, so I know to keep to myself and how not to look like a tourist, but at the same time it's good to know what to avoid. Thank you both again for your help, dulcie I love great beer and will explore some of the places you mentioned, and nsx, superb reco's on the food, much appreciated!

                    1. re: askdrtodd

                      All of the areas where places have been mentioned above - downtown (River North, West Loop, South Loop, Loop); Lincoln Park; Bucktown/Wicker Park; and Andersonville - are walkable, day or night. They are all desirable/trendy neighborhoods, which not only have people living there, but all have quite a bit of activity and nightlife (stores, restaurants, etc).

        2. You should also check out iNG, the Girl and the Goat, the Purple Pig, Avec, Gilt Bar and Big Star. Not all, but some of these places do not take reservations and require a wait. Don't over estimate the issue of waiting for a table. Just go early or late, expect to wait, grab a drink or head somewhere else for a drink and give the host your cell phone number. It can be fun, especially for someone who enjoys sipping on a few pints. Have fun.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Chihab

            You can expect to wait TWO HOURS OR MORE at some of those places. There are many other, equally great restaurants that accept reservations, where you won't have to wait at all. It's your decision where to go, and whether to spend a significant part of your brief visit waiting in lines, or seeing and doing other things around the city.

            You don't need to guess the waiting time, either; if you want to get a good idea of how long the wait is at Chicago's most crowded restaurants, you can see in this recent article: http://chicago.metromix.com/restauran...

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Equally great is subjective. Obviously those who wait for two hours would not agree with you. And when you say "wait"' bear in mind for many of us spending 1 to 2 hours enjoying a few pre dinner drinks is actually fun, especially if you go in expecting it and don't arrive so hungry you can't bear to wait. Many of the places I listed are exactly what the OP was looking for in terms of great beer, innovative small plates and fun atmosphere, as evidenced by the high demand to eat there and the likely waits. Don't assume everyone has the same aversion to waiting you clearly have.

              1. re: nsxtasy

                In re reading this it is really misleading to suggest the 1 to 2 hours are spent "waiting in line". The wait is spent at the bar in the restaurant or in a bar nearby for most people, enjoying some drinks.

                1. re: Chihab

                  A lot of those places will also allow you to order something to eat ether at the bar or at a designated waiting area with tables while you enjoy your pre-dinner drink(s) and wait for your dinner table to be ready.

                  1. re: chicgail

                    So right! I've had a great time doing just that at Revolution Brewing and any number of other hot spots. And my experience has been that the waits are often far less than quoted, because some people put their names on the list and then decide not to stay.

                  2. re: Chihab

                    Good point chihab. There is much more to the Chicago food and drink experience than the small group of restaurants constantly recommended here on Chow. A bit of travel within the city and a willingness to visit places other than the "reservations only" sort can yield great rewards.

                    1. re: nsxtasy

                      On the area of small plates- The Girl & the Goat and Gilt Bar are both great places to try a lot of different food. Both take reservations although it can be hard to get one at TG&T - but the place is really really good. Agree as well that Purple Pig and Big Star are really great places for a bite too and you can get some fun drinks at Big Star and just have a taco or two.

                      We just had lunch at Sable this wknd and I was much less impressed with their lunch than their dinner menu, so just know you're getting a different experience. They don't have many of their small plates at lunch- it's mostly sandwiches and ours were ok, but nothing that blew us away. Our service was also really poor.